"And Israel Encamped There Opposite the Mountain"
49th day of the Omer
On the sixth day of the third month, (the month of Sivan), in the first year of the exodus from Egypt, an event took place unlike anything that has ever happened since or before. The Holy One, blessed be He, arranged a meeting between Himself and the children of Israel, between heaven and earth. Of course we are referring to the revelation at Mount Sinai where G-d brought His Torah to the Israelite nation. This union between G-d's will and the innate (G-d given) ability of man to perform G-d's will, forever changed the course of humanity.
Midrash teaches us that G-d first offered Torah to each of the nations, and each nation, one after the next, demurred, understandably so, as the extent of the commitment required to keep G-d's commandments is daunting, to say the least. Where did Israel gain its strength and the courage to accept and say, "All that the Lord has spoken we shall do!"? (ibid 19:8) Our sages point out that in the words, "And Israel encamped there opposite the mountain" (ibid 19:2) the Hebrew word for encamped, vayichan, is written in the singular, revealing to us that the nation arrived at Sinai united, as one. One heart, one purpose and one destiny. So united, the immediate positive response to G-d's "initiative" was inevitable, as so united, their ability to successfully take upon themselves the challenge of living life according to Torah.
Another Midrash describes a different and seemingly contradictory insight into Israel's Mount Sinai experience. We are told that when the heavens opened up over Sinai the children of Israel saw the numberless hosts of heavenly angels which populated the firmament descending to the Mount, and each angel was holding a flag. Israel was so taken by this vision that they requested of G-d flags of their own. What did Israel find so compelling about the flags? Wasn't the entire Torah quite enough for them? In fact, our sages also tell us that the angels sought to keep Torah for themselves, but alas, Torah, with all its "hands-on" commandments designed to fit the human condition, was not appropriate to the angels who possess neither substance nor free will. All in all, Israel should have been quite pleased with its new acquisition, and not pining for the flags, but nevertheless, it was the flags they longed for.
Every angel is unique from all the other angels, for every angel is created by G-d for the fulfilling of one single purpose. The "flag" that each one was clutching was their specific G-d given mission, and this is what the Israelites saw, and this is what they so longed to possess for themselves: to know who they were and what was their purpose in life. But if the Israelites drew their strength from their unity, ("And Israel encamped there..." ibid), then what motivated them to suddenly desire to fulfill their own individuality? Can they truly be one people and at the same time be unique personalities?
This is the great gift of Torah. By its strength the nation of Israel is united and only a unified Israel can ultimately attain the full potential of Torah. At the same time it is incumbent upon each and every follower of Torah to pursue his own individuality within Torah and to fulfill the role that G-d has given to him and to him alone. Through Torah we find our unity and strength as a people and through Torah we discover our unique purpose on this earth, our reason for being.
The flag that each one of us possesses, upon which is emblazoned our uniqueness is akin to the brightly colored ribbon each Israelite would tie around his first fruits, designating them to be brought to the Holy Temple for the Bikurim offering on Shavuot. That first fruit, brought to fruition with such diligence and effort is the perfection of our own self, "the better angels of our own nature."
Chag sameach - a joyful Shavuot holiday celebration to all. May we find our true selves as we all stand together at the foot of Mount Sinai and receive Torah anew!
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven talk about what it really means for each one of us to truly receive the Torah anew on this special holiday... this means you! Of course, the manner in which Shavuot, the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, is celebrated in the Holy Temple is completely different than what we are all accustomed to. What is the secret that connects the Torah itself to the first fruits of the Land of Israel? The answer is simple: It's the Torah of this world! Ruth the Moabite, King David and Mashiach, the harvest in the Land of Israel and the Sinai Revelation are all perfectly connected.